When Vulcans become terrorists

Star Trek needs to give us hope for what is to come. Wouldn’t it be nice to imagine a future without suicide bombers? Or am I just a dreamer?

Wouldn’t it be nice to imagine a future without suicide bombers? Or am I just a dreamer?

I don’t know if you have seen the newest offering in the Star Trek universe of television series called Star Trek – Discovery which takes place somewhere between Star Trek – Enterprise and the original Star Trek that started this sci-fi phenomenon way back in 1966.  I am only halfway through season one and the jury is still out as far as I am concerned on how good this new show is. It certainly is a lot darker than us ‘Trekkies’ have become accustomed to what with Star Trek Next Generation and Star Trek – Voyager, both of which tried to show that our future is not dystopian and bleak.

In one of the early episodes of this iteration there is a terrorist attack on a Vulcan leader named Sarek (yes, the same Sarek who is the father of Spock via a human mother – an act that famed US scientist Carl Sagan once compared to a human mating with a petunia).  The terrorist in question is a ‘logic extremist’ who is pissed off at Sarek for engaging with the Klingons (if you are not a Star Trek fan you will need a score card to keep track of who’s who and what’s what).  The movement he belongs to believes in racial (or ‘special’?) purity and does not take kindly to efforts for Vulcans to reach out to a foreign species (and I am sure they were none too happy with a Vulcan having sex and spawning a child with a human).

The terrorist in question is a ‘logic extremist’ who is angry at Sarek for engaging with the Klingons

Even I know that Star Trek isn’t real (yet?) and you’ll never catch me dressing up as a Bajoran at Comicon (not that there is anything wrong with that), but there is an interesting lesson in this fictitious attack.  The assailant is referred to as an extremist and in truth his assassination attempt against Ambassador Sarek does indeed qualify as a terrorist incident (albeit part of a TV series – wouldn’t it be nice if all terrorism was staged and not real?).  For the motivation behind the self-detonation aboard a shuttle craft meets all the hallmarks of what we have come to understand as terrorism.  To wit:

  • It is a serious act of violence
  • It is aimed at a high-ranking public official to force a change in policy
  • It is carried out for an ideological reason.

There, in a nutshell, is terrorism: a serious act of violence carried out against non-combatants for ideological, religious or political reasons (although some people would leave out the ‘non-combatant’ part).  For an act of violence to be accurately described as terrorist in nature it must meet these criteria.  This is important since many serious actions are called terrorism in the absence of any evidence for the rationales underlying their commission.  In the wake of an explosion or a firearm spree many are very quick off the mark to say ‘Terrorism!’ well before anything is really known about the motive. In addition, it is not enough to say that something is terrorism because it ‘terrorises’ people: snakes and spiders terrorise many and I don’t think we want to start talking about ‘Mamba bin Laden’ or the ‘Hisslamic State’ (sorry, those are really, really bad attempts at puns).

I don’t know why the writers of Discovery chose to put a terrorist attack in an early episode of the series. 

There is certainly enough other gratuitous violence throughout the show and more than enough torture scenes (courtesy mostly of the Klingons although there is also the existence of a ‘parallel universe’ where the Federation engages in it as well – this was covered in a very similar way in the original Star Trek).  Maybe those behind the plot wanted to show that even in the year 2250 terrorism will still be a scourge.  If so, it really puts the idea that we are at ‘war’ with terrorism in a very depressing frame: will we be fighting this ‘war’ for another 250 years?  In that case we might want to stop calling our response a ‘war on terrorism’ as I have been advocating (and which I discuss at length in my upcoming 4th book).  I for one don’t want to be at war for centuries.

I kinda think that Star Trek needs to give us hope for what is to come and not dwell on today’s challenges.

Then again perhaps the creators put the scene in because we live in a post 9/11 world where terrorism is all too frequent but far too feared.  In other words, they are projecting our worries of today onto the future.  We live in an age where are told that terrorism is an everyday event (it is not) which poses an existential threat to humanity (it does not).  The hype over the threat has contributed to our irrational fear of it, fear that has seeped into our bones.  This is not good, people.

I kinda think that Star Trek needs to give us hope for what is to come and not dwell on today’s challenges.  Yes, some of the things we worry about today will be with us in 2250 – we will still be human after all with all our strengths and weaknesses – but wouldn’t it be nice to imagine a future without suicide bombers?  Or am I just a dreamer?  Gee, I thought that was the whole point behind Star Trek – a world/universe to come where disease and poverty (and terrorism?) had been eliminated.  Silly me.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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